Exercising Outdoors – The Benefits of Getting Outside

Outside is lovely. As I write this it is about 75 degrees, there is a light breeze, the ocean is a deep blue and there is hardly a cloud in the sky. Summer is nice.  I have been very lucky to have spent almost the past twenty years of my life living and working in places that had pretty decent weather—and sometimes some of the best weather in the world.

It is easy to get outside when the weather is good, but most of us aren’t so lucky to be in a place where you actually want to be outside most of the year. No matter what the weather is like though, there are numerous physical and mental benefits to being outdoors.

We all hear about the high depression rates in notoriously gray cities such as Seattle (although their summers are sublime) and in regions that experience months of virtual darkness due to their location near the poles. This is proof that humans are happier when the outdoors, and particularly the sun, is a regular part of their lives.

Sunlight also provides us with vitamin D, which is not always the easiest to get in your diet especially if you avoid dairy. Spending at least 20 minutes a day in the sun is a good way to get your vitamin D (always keep sun block on your precious face though). Doing some exercise while you’re getting that sun takes care of two things at once!

Participating in outdoor sports or exercise sessions also has stress relieving aspects. Going full nature is even better. Studies have shown that walking in a fully natural setting as opposed to the city relieves stress. Unfortunately the outdoor walk in the city doesn’t relieve much stress, but it is still worthwhile.

For all you treadmill runners, it is a good idea to do at least one run a week on a real surface. The slight changes in the ground are good for your balance and muscle development. You can ramp this up by doing hilly runs outdoors and sprints in the park or at the beach.

Hiking is a spectacular activity that has some valuable cardiovascular benefits. If you keep up a good and consistent pace on even an easy hike, your heart rate will be in an endurance training zone. A few hours of that is a great endurance workout. I use these types of hikes to occasionally replace long runs when I am training for a high mileage race (half-marathon or marathon). Besides breaking up the monotonous running routine, it is just nice to be in nature. I have also found it to improve my training. I especially like it during a taper week as it rests my body more but my heart still gets a nice training session (which, in my experience improves my overall training).

So remember to get outdoors. It is summer for us in the northern hemisphere now. Even when it’s not summer, you should still make an effort to get outside. It can reduce stress and make you feel great.